Devils in Art: Florence, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance

Florence has one remarkable distinction, apart from the honour of having given birth to the Renaissance. It has the larg

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Devils in Art: Florence, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance

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Lorenzo Lorenzi





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Florence, From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance

translated from the Italian bv, Mark Roberts

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. . f Centro Di 0 r1g1na 1 rom

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Bicci di Lorenzo

A Mirnd~ of St Nicholas predella panel , pri vate collect ion. This prcddla panel (30x26 cm) depicting a mir.idc of St Nicholas comes from an alt;irpiccc painted in Florence for the church of San Nicola in U.foggio by Bicci di Lormw between 1433 and 1434 . The church was destroyed in 1787 and the alrarpiccc dismembered. In 1958 Federico Zeri ancmpted a rccons1ruc1ion in the journal 'Paragon l"' (U11a prtcisazion~ JU Bicci di lorrnUJ, pp. 67-7 1) in which he inscncd the prnenl p:.ind as par! of the prcddla. The episode illusmtcd is 1ha1 of a Florentine merchant di ning wiih his friends as someone knocks on the door identifying himself as a pilgrim asking for food. The merchant hands his son a loaf ofbn:;i.d ro give th(' pilgrim who. in fuc1. is the devil in disguise. The devil strangles the chi ld bm Si Nicholas, in the conclusion of thC' Slory which docs no1 appC"ar l1C're, rcsuscitau:s andrcmrnshim 1ohisfuthcr. Thc cntiresmryis painted on o ne single panel in :rn aha rpiccc by Amb rogio Lorcnzcui from the church of San Procolo, now in the Uffizi Gallny in Florence".

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When I first began to consider publishing my research, commenced in 1993 while I was still at university, on the presence of the devil in medieval and Renaissance Florentine art, I feared that it would be greeted with the disheartening silence of indifference. Who would possibly be enthusiastic about such a sombre theme for a city that has been a leader in arts and letters in every epoch? In this I merely adopted the popular picture postcard image of Florence, breathtakingly beautiful and harmonious, blessed with a rich history of art based on proud respect of proportions, geometry and symmetry and expressed through ics own special syntax of figures and symbols. Humanism and the Renaissance established the canons of absolute beauty and identified the city of Florence as the epitome of man's rational expression and action. The moral and civic values of art, the concept of virtue and the harmony ic inspires, these are the ideals expressed in the works of Donatello, Alberti, Leonardo, Botticelli, Michelangelo, just co name a few. The figurative arts of the Tuscan city, however, conceal some surprises chat the book about the Devil intended co introduce to a wider public, without any pretence chat the compilation be complete or definitive, but rather with the intent to offer a glimpse of Florentine history from another point of "view", as E. M. Forster would put it. Perhaps it was precisely this unusual point of view, imbued with a sense of guilt and conviction, yet full of strange and beastly creatures (the biblical symbols of Evil) at once both fascinating and terrifying, that originally attracted a much wider audience than I expected. So much so that almost ten years after the first edition (1997) I have the opportunity to introduce a reprint of the same book: over time the theories originally proposed seem to have been accepted. The encouragements I received, especially from my publishing house, led me to persist in my studies and to focus, in a subsequent essay, on the aesthetics of another well-known symbol of evil, the witch, however in the much wider concexc of ancient and modern Western arc. This second study, Witches: Exploring the Iconography ofthe Sorceress and Enchantress (Centro Di, 2005) explores the evolution of chis iconography over one thousand years of history and traces the specific sources of the aesthetic and erotic evolution of the feminine mystique. This second book, hopefully co be as warmly received as the first, will be followed by a third, ideally, co form a trilogy. Bue, for the moment, the title and subject maccer are still a secret between my publisher and myself.

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Original fro rf.1orenz.o Lorenzi

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June 2006

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Contencs

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Acknowledgements

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Introduction by Maria Grazia Ciardi Duprt Dal Poggetto

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Lamberto Crociani The Iconography of che Baptistery

Lo"1WJ Lorenzi 17

The Devil in Florentine Arc

The works

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Painting and Sculpture

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Miniatures and Engravings

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Goldsmiths' Work with an introductory essay by Dora Liscia Bemporad

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Liturgical Hangings and Vestments

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Guises, colours, families, categories and names of Devils

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Index of illustrations

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Bibliography

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Acknowledgements

This book, which considers rhe meaning and the evolution of the image of the Devil in medieval and renaissance art in Florence, is an updated and improved version of my dissertation of 1993. By means of a careful analysis of the surviving works of art of the period, it seeks to cast light on the iconography of the Devil in all its apects. With the intention and perhaps the presumption of not overlooking any artistic evidence with a bearing on my subject, I have paid as much attention co the most insignificant artefacts as co pictorial works of great importance and beauty. For obvious reasons of space and concentration, I here present only a selection of the more significant and complex works: important examples of a mental, religious and socio-cultural spirit co be found only in Florence. It may be chat the reader will discover some omissions, some lacunae; I am all too conscious of che limits of a study which has the honour and the burden of being the first in its field. In the first place I should like to thank my publisher, Ginevra Marchi, for her dedication and enthusiasm. I am deeply graceful co Professor Maria Grazia Ciardi Dupre Dal Poggetto, who teaches the History of

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Miniature and the Minor Arcs ac the University of Florence and is my supervisor; co Lamberto Crociani of the Pontifical Lateran University of Rome, who has patiently guided my understanding of some complex theological matters; and co Dora Liscia Bemporad (researcher at the University of Florence), who with her colleagues Anna Barbetti, Melania Ceccanci, Adriana Jacona, Lucia Lorenzi and Rossella Tamburini, has been a source of constant encouragement. (L. L.)

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Introduction

Maria Grazia Ciardi Dupre Dal Poggetto

Florence has one remarkable distinction, apart from the honour of having given birth to the Renaissance. It has the largest and most terrible image of Satan in all of Europe: the mosaic of Hell attributed to Coppo di Marcovaldo, dating from about 1280 and dominating the interior of the Baptistery, the medieval city's symbolic centre. Satan's presence is further developed in the representations of Hell to be found in two majestic Florentine churches: one is in the Strozzi Chapel of the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella, and the other, a Triumph ofDeath which originally adorned the right-hand aisle of the Franciscan church of Santa Croce, is now unfortunately in a fragmentary condition and is displayed in the Museum of Santa Croce. Another Hell, part of a Last Judgement painted by Fra Angelico, was in the Rotonda degli Angeli, a building known as the cradle of the Renaissance because it was built by Brunelleschi and was the church of one of the great Florentine humanists, Ambrogio Traversari. 1 So Florence was not only the city of reason and science, of harmony and perspective, but it was also the city of the Devil. This is the surprising fact that Lorenzo Lorenzi has discovered and illustrated in chis book. It is apparent not only in the large-scale works already mentioned but it can be discovered, more or less hidden, in polyptychs and altarpieces, in liturgical furnishings, and (after the invention of printing) in the incunabula of Savonarola's works: in the editions of the Predica dellarte del Bene morire by Bartolomeo de' Libri and A. Tubini, and in the Compendio di Rivelazione published by Piero Pacini of Pescia, the image of the Devil is intended co off-set the serenity of Christ (Trattato dell'Amore di Cristo published by Antonio Riscomini, Operetta... sopra i dieci comandamenti published by Bartolomeo de' Libri). The image of Hell as the kingdom of the Devil is expressed with enormous power in che Inferno of Dance, where Satan is constrained by God to his own evil subjects and devotees. This is a highly logical response to the problem of evil, worthy of Florentine rationalism - the evil chat is rooted in

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mankind, and even in God's beloved daughter, nature. Because the problems of evil and its inevitable punishment are remote from the concerns of contemporary man, this aspect of Florentine history has now largely fallen into oblivion. It is nevertheless a fascinating one, and its rediscovery is not the least of this book's merits. Lorenzo Lorenzi noc only provides a history and an overview of the Devil in Florence, but assembles for us an iconographic anthology of rare interest, by means of which we are able co observe the dialectic between the progressive, inevitable anthropomorphisation of representations of the Devil (and thus of evil), and the monster of the early middle ages: a slow development, marked by diversions, contaminations and variants. The temptation co construct the Devil in one's own image is perhaps surprising in view of che Florentine cult of the perfect human body. The diabolic figure was created by mingling che human head and face with bestial elements. There is a great variety of these, and if we look for the reason we begin to see that each work of art is a microcosm formed of elements drawn from the collective memory: an entire series of variables chat reflect philosophical and religious transformations. In some cases we are dealing with extremely well-known paintings, but ones which have never been studied from this point of view before. Lorenzi's book shows us how in Florence between the 13th and che l 6ch century che image of che Devil was composed ouc of elements which che popular imagination had separately endowed with monstrous, evil or hostile connotations. Seduction as an instrument of evil has mosc effect on cultivated and religious dispositions, as is confirmed by this study of the Florentine evidence: che serpent has a beautiful, innocent and sexless face in Masolino's fresco of che Temptation ofAdam and Eve in the chapel of Cardinal Antonio Brancacci in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence. This is a remarkable early example of a theme - seduction by che powers of evil - which has flourished in modern times. This is a subject that should be explored in another book: a book by the author of chis one, naturally.

I. Today the painting is in the Museum of San Marco.

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The iconography of the Baptistery

Lamberto Crociani

History, and especially liturgical history, has revealed the enormous importance of the Florentine Baptistery, which since its foundation has been the heart of the city's ecclesiastical life. In the early period it was used for liturgical purposes only twice a year at most, and for the rest of the rime it stood closed and empty.1 The entire architectural structure of the "cathedral complex" indicates, however, that it was ideally to be visited on every liturgical day, because it was the source of the whole Christian life. 2 Archaeology shows that che dimensions of the Baptistery have always been the same, viz. extremely large, if we recall chat Florence in the 4th and 5th century was by no means a metropolis. In the course of time the struggle between the bishops and the canons centred on chis building, and whereas the clergy cook over the church dedicated co Sc Reparaca for the celebration of the Eucharist, ic was the Baptistery, dedicated co St John the Baptist, that became the domus episcopi, 3 and as such became the centre of Florence's most important mythography. 4 When as a result of the Gregorian reform the Chapter stole a march on the Bishop, the Baptistery did not pass into the clerical sphere of influence hue rather, as seems obvious in such cases, passed from being che domus episcopi to being the symbol of municipal identity, and thus the manifest sign not only of the new political situation in Florence hue also of che ecclesiastical one. 5 After some rebuilding in t.he 11th century, the interior was decorated with the iconographic programme we see today (as restored in the 19th century). The three doors, later in dace than the mosaics, signal the period of maximum splendour achieved by Florence with her civic freedoms and the triumph of Guelf Catholic orthodoxy, but they are also indicative of continuity and fidelity to ancient tradition. We cannot here deal in detail with individual elements in the decorative scheme, hue some pointers may be offered for an iconological interpretation of the mosaic of the Last judgement (high above the

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baptismal font, in the part of the dome nearest the apse), together with some consideration of its theological implications. The entire iconographic scheme responds faithfully to the requirements of the liturgy and to the theological tradition of initiation. As soon as the catechumens entered the building, they became conscious of the unity formed by heaven and earth,6 they had the certainty chat they were readmitted into the lost garden of Eden,7 that they had reached the bosom of Mother Church,8 that they were proclaiming Catholic orthodoxy, that their lives were founded on the dynamic of service,9 which binds together the whole life of the Church. But at the same time they knew that they had behind them a long period of initiatory catechesis, now brought to an end, 10 and that they were about to open themselves to a new reality through bathing and anointing. They would then definitively become followers of the mystic Lamb, the obedient and suffering Servant foretold by the prophets, the true and only Prophet of God, the Word made flesh, to whom Moses had directed his people shortly before his death. 11 This, then, is the general iconological content of the great mosaics which cover the walls and vaults of the Baptistery; che elect know also with certainty that, having reached the inside of the building, they have entered into a new rime: ultimate, definitive, announced and awaited throughout history, a time looking forward to no salvific event other than the glorious Second Coming of the Saviour. 12 This ultimate reality of a time outside time, and of history come to its final and definitive conclusion, confronts the neophytes as they emerge from the baptismal waters and are able co contemplate the dome before proceeding to the apse to receive Confirmation. What they contemplate is the tremendous scene described in St Matthew's Gospel (25:31-46), the only one to strike their eyes at this moment, because che synthesis of their catechesis and the model for their lives as initiates can only be seen when they turn away from the apse towards the door "of Paradise". Emerging from the font the neophyte sees the Risen Lord, seated on che Throne, caking up three orders of the mosaic as though to fill all space with Himself. There are wounds on His hands and feet, indelibly imprinted on His glorified body, now transfigured into the Light. His feet are "twisted", to show that it was really He who suffered crucifixion. From His side, through the regal gar12

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men ts of the Basi/eus, there spurts a stream of blood; the countenance of the Judge is serene and smiling, to show that even the Last Judgement is a manifestation of God's tenderness towards His creatures. In the uppermost order stand the adoring angels; in the middle, the twelve Apostles are seated on thrones; to either side of the Risen Christ sit Sc John the Precursor and the Mother of God, in attitudes of prayer. Angels stand behind the thrones. In the lowest order, beneath the feet of Christ, we see the dead arising from their tombs on the Last Day, and Hell to the right. In the centre of the place of torment we see Lucifer, a veritable monster of a man, but also a veritable "Ape of God". In his dissenation, to which we refer the interested reader, Lorenzo Lorenzi studied the iconography of Satan in medieval and renaissance Florence. Also of interest is Lorenzi's essay La presenza de/ Ma/igno ne//'oreficeria fiorentina de/ Quattrocento [The Presence of Evil in 15th-century Florentine Goldsmiths' Work],' 3 where he makes his own an old observation of Longhi's, and recognises the mosaic of Hell as one of the most intense and exhilarating examples of diabolic grotesque, which he defines as formalised despair.14 And indeed, within the majestic mosaic decoration of the Baptistery, the scene of Hell, shown to the neophytes only en passant, evokes a sense of almost overwhelming suffering and despair, although one that is contained by the classical serenity of its iconic style. We have said that Satan is a monster of a man and an "Ape of God", and indeed this figure is the anti-icon par excellence, with its disfigured visage, horns, and large ears from which protrude two snakes devouring sinners. The mouth is also enormous, and chewing up another sinner, but the body in itself seems to recall that of the Crucified, as its "twisted" feet would appear to indicate. Satan is, then, the anti-icon of God, and his green colour recalls the serpent of Genesis (3: 1-15) and of the Apocalypse (20:2). If the scene of the Last Judgement depends on Matthew 25, we may suppose that Coppo di Marcovaldo was also familiar with this passage from the Apocalypse, especially as verse 4 mentions the thrones and those who sat upon them in judgement, and refers to the holy martyrs and the sinners. It is possible to recognise in the three orders of the mosaic, dominated by the victorious Saviour, the visual equivalent of the text by the Seer of Patmos. Hell itself is a chasm, an abyss, a crack in the earth. The infernal scene, although balanced and symmetrical, contrasts pro-

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foundly with the hieratic grandeur and serene tranquilliry of the Last Judgement scene. Satan, the anti-icon, taking up the full height of his section of the mosaic, is dishevelled-looking, and is ravenously devouring the damned; he is seated on his throne at the bottom of the abyss, screeching out his arms co grab sinners; his big eyes make his whole face filled with sorrow. He is however quite small in comparison co the Saviour, who is seated upon the heavenly spheres, with His arms spread wide to embrace the baptised, and His countenance rendered joyful and smiling by the large eyes. Coppo thus sets up a contrast between the transfiguration into the divine and uncreated Light, and the one into chaotic darkness, caused by the refusal of communion. Satan, although disturbing and frightening in his insatiable avidiry, and in his disorder which can never be put in order, nevertheless appears small and defeated in comparison with the rest of the brilliant scene, and with the sheer size of the Risen Christ. So the neophytes were shown their condition as Children of the Light, at the outset of a journey which might lead chem co Heaven or to Hell. The idea was not however to terrify chem or to fill their lives with anguish, but to present chem with an iconic representation of a choice they muse make, a choice between light and darkness. As well as outstanding artistic abiliry, it is evident that Coppo was possessed of a profound theological acumen, as is also shown by his representations of the Sedes Sapientiae made for the Services of Siena and Orvieco. The combination of artistic skill and theological insight is what makes him such a truly excellent master. The entire iconographic programme of the Baptistery is an exaltation of the divine beaury offered as a gift to man through bathing and anointing, the recovery of the original beaury of man which is the Beaury of God, and hence the definitive putting away of the diabolic anti-icon and of the sin of Adam. Within this programme, the depiction of Hell is intended to exalt even more the divine and uncreated light so splendidly evoked by the gold of the mosaics, gleaming with the lamps of Easter and Pentecost, for the benefit of chose who are living the mystery of initiation.

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I) Christian initicacion traditionally cook place during che vigils of Easter and Pentecost. 2) The Eucharist is the memorial of the entire economy of salvation, but it is also and always a sacrament of initiation: the lase of the three sacraments of initiation, and the only one which is ordinarily repeated at fixed intervals. 3) Benvenuci's historical reconstruction reveals a triple dedication of the ~cathedral complex~ of Florence: in the earliest period both buildings were dedicated to the Saviour; in an intermediate period of struggle between the Chapter and the Bishop's Palace there was first a dedication co Sc John of the entire complex, and then a dedication of the Baptistery to St John and of the euchariscic building to Sc Reparata; in che final period the two dedications remain separate, but there is an enlargement and restructuring of Santa Reparaca. In each period the life of Sc Zenobius is rewrinen. 4) The hagiography of Sc Zenobius comes from the domus episcopi, and it is the Bishop himself who carries out the translation of che body of Sc Zcnobius from San Lorenzo to San ca Reparata, as though to establish his dominion over the whole liturgical complex. 5) It should be noted that whereas the Chapter was the symbol of clerical power, the Bishop's Palace became the focus for che municipality and hence the encire civic community. 6) Cf. the presence of the entire angelic hierarchy. 7) Cf. the plant and animal decoration, which makes an Eden of the Baptistery. 8) Beneath che gallery on che firsc Ooor chere are che icons of che sainted bishops. 9) The icons of the bishops. of the doccors of the faith, are joined at each corner by chc icon of a sainted deacon. This iconography derives from che 2nd-century Shepherd of Henn11s. I 0) C f. chc various orders of n1osaics above the door known as "of Paradise". fro n1 chc Creation co chc death of Sc John che Baptise. chc subjects forn1ing chc itinerary of baptismal cacechcsis. I I) Sc(' chc mosaic in chc vaulc of the: chancd. tlank